Muslim Women, Caught Between Islamophobes and ‘Our Men’

women in Badshahi mosque lahore

Muslim women praying in Lahore, Pakistan, at the historic Badshahi Mosque, in June.CreditK.M. Chaudary/Associated Press. The Muslim Times has the best collection of articles on women rights especially Muslim women rights

Source: NY Times

By Mona Eltahawy

LAGOS, Nigeria — The unending tide of accounts of sexual harassment and assault by powerful men that women are suddenly allowing themselves to share is a reminder of the ubiquity of sexual violence that women worldwide have long known too well — and that men in a few places are finally, albeit reluctantly, acknowledging.

It is a watershed moment finally to recognize the global reach and power of patriarchy, be it in entertainment, media, business or politics, whether in Hollywood, Washington, Paris or elsewhere.

In this month alone, terminations, resignations and accusations have starkly highlighted the prevalence of patriarchy’s crimes, for too long enabled by institutions that knew but failed to act.

The actor Kevin Spacey was fired by Netflix. Britain’s secretary of state for defense, Michael Fallon, was forced to resign. One current and three former female legislators told The Associated Press that they, too, were harassed or subjected to hostile sexual comments by fellow members of Congress. After Valérie Plante defeated the incumbent mayor of Montreal in an election on Nov. 5, and women won seven of the city’s 19 borough mayorships, a prominent Quebec feminist, Francine Pelletier, attributed the gains to a “feminine wave of disgust at the way politics and powerful people conduct themselves.”

In Egypt and Lebanon, social media users shared stories chronicling their experiences, and in India, a woman opened an online campaign to name and shame university teachers alleged to have sexually harassed or assaulted students.

Given the global reach of such claims, you would think that when the Swiss-born Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, now on leave from teaching at Oxford in England, faced (and denied) accusations of rape and sexual assault from at least three women, that report alone would have reminded everyone that sexual harassment and worse can exist in any community.

For Muslims, however, the reports have instead served as a reminder that we Muslim women are caught between a rock and a hard place — a trap presenting near-impossible obstacles for exposing sexual violence.

The rock is an Islamophobic right wing in other cultures that is all too eager to demonize Muslim men. Exhibit A is President Trump, who has himself been accused of sexually harassing women and was caught on tape bragging about it. Nevertheless, he has used so-called honor crimes and misogyny (which he ascribes to Muslim men) to justify his efforts to ban travel to the United States from several Muslim-majority countries.

An ascendant right wing in European politics meanwhile jumps to connect any reports of misconduct by Muslim men to their Muslimness and to Islam as a faith rather than to their maleness and the power with which patriarchy rewards it around the globe. Witness the aftermath of a sexual assault against women in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve two years ago, in which the men’s faith and ethnic backgrounds were highlighted as explanations of the assaults.

“Many Muslim women have been reluctant to discuss this Tariq Ramadan case because in part they don’t want to feed into elements of the media’s Islamophobic and racist framing of these allegations,” Shaista Aziz, an Oxford-based freelance journalist, told me. “This does nothing to encourage women to report sexual violence.”

The hard place is a community within our own faith that is all too eager to defend Muslim men against all accusations. Mr. Ramadan’s defenders have dismissed the complaints against him as a “Zionist conspiracy” and an Islamophobic attempt to destroy a Muslim scholar. Too often, when Muslim women speak out, some in our “community” accuse us of “making our men look bad” and of giving ammunition to right-wing Islamophobes.

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